Within seconds of logging on to social media while posing as a 13-year old girl, an older man asked to see a nude picture. Moments later, another man sent a picture of his privates.
The live demonstrations were part of Parents Night Out -- Protecting What's Important, a presentation hosted by the Benton County Sheriff's Office at the Siloam Springs Library on Tuesday night. Dozens of parents attended and stayed well after the scheduled two-hour meeting to ask cyber crime detectives from the sheriff's office even more questions.
"Would you take your child to the park and leave them alone?" Benton County Sheriff Shawn Holloway asked the audience at Tuesday's presentation. Of course, every parent replied "No!" in unison.
"When you have a device without parental controls, that's basically what you're doing," Holloway said.
It was the first time the sheriff's office has hosted the presentation on the western side of Benton County. They have four a year with crowds of concerned parents growing as large as 150 people for a presentation at Northwest Arkansas Community College last year.
As alarming as the live demonstrations were, detectives illustrated details of cases they had worked that were even more disturbing.
One was a 65-year-old, self-described "pervert," who, in addition to sending a picture of himself with his grandson to what he thought was an underage girl, posted one message that he was sitting at a city pool fantasizing about having sex with "all the little girls running around in bikinis."
A 33-year-old man spent a week befriending an underage girl before trying to convince her to move to Ohio with him where she could become one of "his girls" and make money as a prostitute.
Both ended up arrested by detectives when trying to meet at discreet locations, like at a hotel room, in hopes of having sex with their victims.
"People chatting with me are most likely chatting with your child, or at least attempting to," said detective Alison Nguyen. "These predators find ways to connect, many times though normal conversations about school, homework and other teenager-related things. Then, they start grooming their victims and telling them fantasies -- all leading into sex.
"And many of them are not on the sex offender registry."
Nguyen has been working with the sheriff's office for four months and has worked cases with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. She's the only full-time officer devoted to working undercover on social media sites and uses various different accounts on "all the apps" to connect with potential online predators. She's highly trained and has to make sure she doesn't do anything to entrap predators in order to make the strongest case possible for prosecuting purposes.
"If I had the manpower, I could have 25 to 30 officers out there full-time," Holloway said. "We're one of the few departments that are doing this. We're taking a proactive approach, while most departments are reactive."
Cyber crime detectives Olin Rankin and David Undiano spoke to parents about dozens of potentially dangerous applications children can download and access from their computers and mobile devices. Several social media sites allow images, videos and texts to be exchanged and some that show a user's geolocation to help them connect with people in their area. One app claimed to delete pictures/videos that were sent 10 seconds after opening, but that people on the receiving end have figured out they can screen shot those images before they disappear.
Many apps don't have minimum age requirements, or have age-verification systems that can be easily manipulated. Some are public-type forums where anonymous strangers don't have to ask permission to view another user's account. There also are "vault apps" that allow children to hide images from their parents on their device, including one that is disguised as a "settings" folder and another that looks like a calculator.
Technology is always changing, but the sheriff's office has one of the best cyber crime divisions in the state and do "a good job of keeping up with it," Holloway said. The detectives suggested regular audits of what internet search terms children are using and to use tracking apps to find out what physical locations they have frequented. The tracking app Cerberus allows audio, video or pictures to be taken remotely without a child even knowing it's happening.
"We're not trying to tell parents how to do things under their own roofs," Rankin said. "We're just giving you the information, so you can decide what to do with it."
Undiano spoke about recently logging on to the Live.Me app, which allows users to broadcast live video from their cell phones, and seeing a "group of very young girls" on a live stream that he "could easily tell was at the Northwest Arkansas Mall." He called it a "scary app" because a predator could have easily found out their names and located them in the mall, even though they were "not intentionally putting dangerous info out there."
Apps to avoid include Live.me, KIK and Whisper, but others can be just as dangerous if parents aren't monitoring their children's activity, Undiano said.
Detectives encouraged parents to stay up to date on new applications kids are using, to set ground rules and outline consequences. Define exactly who they can contact and have passwords set up that parents know, so they can access their social media activity. In addition, children should be reminded that anything they send or post can be saved, sent and forwarded, so they need to know those things "can come back to haunt you," Undiano said.General News on 02/04/2018
Print Headline: BCSO: Protect kids from online dangers